Katie van Scherpenberg Brazilian, b. 1940


With a career spanning more than 50 years, Katie van Scherpenberg has developed a very singular, original and consistent body of works in which art and life are inextricably intertwined. Her formative years were spent between Brazil and Europe, completing her studies in England, and a two-year scholarship granted by the German government in 1961-63 that allowed her to study painting in Munich with Georg Brenninger (1909-1988) and in Salzburg with Oskar Kokoshcka (1886-1980).


van Scherpenberg returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1964, one week after the military coup that installed a dictatorial regime that would remain in power for the next two decades. During this period she worked alongside artists and intellectuals who vehemently opposed the dictatorship and produced her only openly political series titled The Executives (1976). In these equally satirical and monstrous portraits, van Scherpenberg manages to brilliantly encapsulate the political climate of that time.


In 1968 she took the radical decision to move and settle in the remote Amazonian island of Santana. Here on an island by one of the world’s most important rivers, she spent most of the next 17 years. The absolute lack of professional art materials drove her to research ways to make natural pigments from soil. Speaking about this period her life, the artist recounted:  'You could say that the river was, among other things, so much paint, for it contained a large quantity of pigments (ferrous oxides) from faraway places, and together with this paint it brought me a whole lot of information. In this sense, the river is somewhat like a painting…A river is like life, it is never stable, by its very nature - particularly the Amazon.


The 1980s marked the expansion of van Scherpenbergs paintings into outdoor spaces. These ephemeral interventions on the landscape - or landscape paintings, as the artist calls them - consisted of the use of different types of pigments on beaches, gardens, and rivers. Works like Esperando Papai [Waiting for daddy] (2004), Jardim Vermelho [Red Garden] (1986) and Furo (2001) are works which meditate on geography, ancestry and memory across the artists life. 


In the early 1980s, alongside her practise van Scherpenberg worked on a project commissioned by National Foundation for the Arts (FUNARTE) with the aim of developing good quality art materials for the Brazilian market which involved the analysis of mineral pigments from Brazilian soil that could be used to produce paints. At the time, artists could not access high quality paints due to extortionate tax import duties and lack of interest from Brazilian industries to develop products for this niche market. This not only provided the artist with the opportunity to expand her research on local materials initiated in the Amazon territory, but also opened up new possibilities to explore materiality in her own work.


During the 1970s, van Scherpenberg started to exhibit widely and won the prestigious Modern Art National Salon prize in 1976. In the 1980s van Scherpenberg participated in two Sao Paulo Biennials – Kronos at the XVI São Paulo Bienal in 1981 and The Via Sacra at the XX São Paulo Bienal in 1989. More recent exhibitions include Olamapá at Centro Cultural Oi Futuro, Rio de Janeiro in 2019, Sin titulo at the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin in 2006 and Feuerbach and I at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Niterói in 2000. The artist's work is held in a number of significant collection in Brazil such as Gilberto Chateaubriand collection; the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro; the Museum of Contemporary Art of Brasília; and National Museum of Fine arts, Rio de Janeiro, as well as in collections internationally such as Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; Royal collection of Sweden, Stockholm; and the University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art, UK.